Opening Remarks of Ranking Member Wittman

Mar 14, 2019
Opening Statement
Department of the Air Force Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's joint hearing titled “Department of the Air Force Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces."

"I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I want to thank Dr. Roper and Lieutenant General Fay for participating in our first fiscal year 2020 budget hearing.

"Last year, the administration prepared a new National Defense Strategy that accentuated great powers competition and indicated that the new strategy would be incorporated into the fiscal year 2020 budget request. In many areas, this is true. We have seen a significant effort to accelerate hypersonics, a continued focus on the new B-21 bomber, and the development of advanced weapons. However, with every step forward, we continue to take a step back and avoid fully embracing the full weight of great powers competition—a move that will undoubtably, unexpectedly, and eventually hamstring us at some critical juncture in the future. 

"For example, we continue to exhibit significant shortfalls in our tanker force structure; we continue to lack progress in bomber modernization; and we continue to lack basic mobility capabilities necessary to operate in a contested environment. I am convinced that today’s air forces are optimized to operate in a benign environment and that any major change to our current operations will take years to implement and a steady, willing hand to for them fully embrace the basic tenets of our new National Defense Strategy—simply put, our Air Force must evolve.

"An example of this missing evolution is the KC-135—the backbone of our tanker force structure— a capability that at first glance checks out, yet a deeper look shows its ability to operate in a contested environment is particularly lacking. We need to significantly modernize this long-term tanker asset to include basic connectivity, radar warning, and active countermeasures. We need to ensure that the deep penetrating strike bombers have sufficient defensive countermeasure capabilities to operate in a contested and conflicted environment. We need to explore other options as to how we deliver long range fires at range. Unfortunately, the fiscal year 2020 budget request does little to forward these critical mission areas. 

"In addition to great powers competition, I think that we need to review certain acquisition programs to include the KC-46A tanker and the B-52 reengining program. As to KC-46A, this has been a tortured program that is just now starting to deliver. I understand that the Air Force has started, then stopped, and started again—earlier this week—accepting aircraft that require additional hardware modifications to the primary tanking mission area. I think that the Air Force did a good job at initially holding the line and requiring strict compliance with the tanker specification. However, when push came to shove, the Air Force decided to accept deficient aircraft, and in some cases, accept the financial liability to fix certain deficient components. And, while I’m glad that these planes have been delivered, maybe the lesson learned in this acquisition program is that fixed price development on even relatively uncomplicated acquisitions is not the correct tool to realize warfighting capabilities. I look forward to better understanding how fixed price development contracts deliver specification requirements.

"As to the B-52 reengining program, I am pleased to see industry respond to Air Force request for information with engines that will ensure the B-52 aircraft can be retained in the long term and at reduced cost. However, I remain concerned about the use of a rapid prototyping authority for what is a long-term integration challenge. I think that we need to closely examine the appropriate application of these accelerated authorities and the implications of shortcuts associated with the current federal acquisition regulations. I have seen a multitude of defense programs suffer from significant concurrency of design and development, and I fear that we may be embarking on a similar path for this B-52 reengining program.

"All that being said, I continue to be impressed with the leadership of the Air Force acquisition team. If the Air Force can more adequately embrace the change directed in the national defense strategy, I believe that our Air Forces will be more effective, lethal, and survivable in a true great powers competition.

"I thank the Chairman for organizing this important hearing and I yield the balance of my time."

116th Congress